5th Octomber 1997

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It’s the sprats get lugged

For the past three weeks we have been harping in these columns about what on the face of it has been a massive raid by the Customs Department on an import-export house of Colombo whose managing director holds high public office in the administration of President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. We also expressed our fears about a rather surreptitious attempt to hush up the investigation that allegedly runs to the tune of some millions of rupees.

The Customs Chief all praise to him is standing his ground. We are, as much as this country is, watching and waiting.

“How can I stop when there is a prima facie case,” Customs Chief S.M.J. Senaratne quite rightly says. But it has been a month now since the raid and the Customs Chief told the media this week that this is not like shooting a rabbit, it’s like shooting a wild elephant. What he meant was that no quick results could be provided considering the voluminous documentation, the lack of personnel and the internal and external pressures. Yet he must also know, whether he likes or not, the searchlight is on him and his department.

The Sunday Times on page one today carries the story of the country’s first case of corruption under the much-heralded commission to investigate allegations of bribery and corruption of 1994 introduced almost immediately after the PA formed the government. Justice Minister G. L. Peiris vowed that the new law was aimed at bringing to book the corrupt sharks. Alas, the first case we have come across is that of a school principal who has taken some cups and saucers worth Rs. 900. While the sharks are allowed to get away the sprats get lugged in. That was how the UNP did things. That is how the PA is doing things.

This government is fast losing its credibility as a clean government.

It was only last week that so many in high office placed floral tributes to the late Prime Minster S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike. Many of them praised his words and his deeds and pledged their eternal faith in what have now come to be known and accepted as the Bandaranaike policies.

It is then worth the while to suggest to those very people to read the speech of Mr. Bandaranaike made in 1943 in the then State Council when a motion was introduced seeking the expulsion of six councillors accused of bribery.

On that occasion, Mr. Bandaranaike urged the councillors to resign. When one of them asked “even if one is innocent,” Mr. Bandaranaike went on to say “ Yes, even if one is innocent,” and explained how one in such high public office must be above suspicion.

In that speech, Mr. Bandaranaike referred to how small people were thrown to “ravenous wolves” (his words) and everything is done to protect big people when it comes to bribery and corruption.

These words of the late Mr. Bandaranaike should surely ring in the ears of those who revere him.

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